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  1. Education

Pasco County Schools teachers, district reach tentative pay agreement

Pasco County School Buses. Times file
Published Apr. 2

Three months after reaching an impasse, representatives for the Pasco County school district and the teachers bargaining unit came to terms on raises for the year that recently entered its fourth quarter.

The sides agreed to a deal during talks on March 28. It boosts the cost-of-living increase for all employees to 1.1 percent, up from 0.875 percent. It also placed more money into the pot for performance-based pay to teachers on annual contracts, who comprise about 60 percent of the faculty.

"It worked out for everybody in all categories," United School Employees of Pasco president Don Peace. The agreement was a compromise between the district and union offers.

The sides were able to make such a move, Peace said, because employee attrition since January has allowed the same amount of available cash to be spread among fewer people.

There's "more for all," district employee relations director Kathy Scalise said.

The negotiators also agreed to remove from consideration any change to the use of seniority when deciding reductions in force and involuntary transfers. The district wanted to get rid of it, citing state law, while the union wanted to retain it as one of several factors.

"We will leave the existing language for this year and work toward meeting something that is statutorily defined for the future," Peace said.

They did not reach a final deal on training time for teachers in schools under state turnaround plans, and they did not discuss their disagreements relating to performance evaluation guidelines. Both of those items will head to mediation.

Formal impasse hearings with a special hearing officer will be postponed until after the mediation. Because all facets of the contract are not complete, teachers will not yet see the agreed-upon raises in their paychecks.

Both Peace and Scalise sounded encouraged that they had crossed some outstanding items off the negotiating to-do list.

Some teachers, however, wrote messages to the superintendent and school board raising concerns about the tentative agreement.

They wanted to know why veteran teachers who hold continuing contracts, which newly hired teachers could not get after mid-2011, would receive smaller raises than a less experienced employee. They also asked why a teacher with a "highly effective" performance rating would get the same increase as one with an "effective" evaluation.

District officials noted that state law requires schools to offer the highest pay raises to teachers on the annual contract pay-for-performance plan. Teachers can switch their contracts if they want, but the change would be irrevocable.

The agreement requires completion of the outstanding items and a ratification vote to become final.

LISTEN UP: Pasco County schools have long had a rule requiring students to keep their handheld wireless devices out of sight during class time, unless their teachers say they can use them during lessons.

District officials want to extend the policy to earphones, too.

After receiving complaints from teachers that some kids are plugged in and tuned out during course work — you can see the buds in their ears and sometimes hear the hum of music — the Code of Conduct committee has recommended adding "all accessories" to the list of items to be stowed away.

"This includes the use of ear buds, headphones, Bluetooth speakers and/or any similar accessory," according to the proposed change.

District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said the proposal does not apply to teacher-approved uses, such as note taking, or to other times of the school day. That includes before and after school, during lunch periods, between classes, during after-school/extracurricular activities, at school-related functions and while on the school bus, "provided such use does not create a distraction, disruption, or otherwise interfere with the educational environment," the proposal states.

Principals who have allowed students to play games, listen to music, text and otherwise use their devices during free time have in the past reported seeing fewer students try to do so during class, and also some have said other related disciplinary issues have declined.

ADMINISTRATION CHANGES: Superintendent Kurt Browning has reorganized his top administrative team after moving former assistant superintendent Tammy Berryhill back to a school for the remainder of the year.

Monica Ilse, who was overseeing the district's low-performing schools, will become assistant superintendent for high schools. Kim Poe, who was an executive director working with Ilse supervising the struggling schools, will be promoted to assistant superintendent of elementary schools.

She will split that function with David Scanga, who was in that role already. The district has about twice the number of elementary schools as middle and high schools, combined.

Marcy Hetzler-Nettles will remain assistant superintendent for middle schools.

Poe's former position will not be filled.

Contact Jeffrey S. Solochek at jsolochek@tampabay.com. Follow @jeffsolochek.

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